State of the University 2007

Mark Huddleston

President, University of New Hampshire
State of the University Address
November 15, 2007
Granite State Room, Memorial Union Building

Good afternoon and welcome to all of you here in Durham, and to all of you who are watching the simulcast at UNH-Manchester.

I'd like to start this speech with a reassurance, one rooted in the story of the CEO who was scheduled to speak at an important convention.  He asked one of his employees to write him a punchy, 30-minute speech. But when the CEO returned from the big event, he was furious.

"What's the idea of writing me a 90-minute speech?" he demanded. "Half the audience walked out before I finished."

The employee was baffled. "I wrote you a 30-minute speech," he replied. "I also gave you the two extra copies you asked for."

Well, to play it safe, I wrote my own speech and the reassurance is that I promise not to read it three times.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual State of the University Address. I have read most of the speeches given by my predecessors and I could tell you that they're hard acts to follow. But, in fact, they are not …not because they weren't fine speeches—they were—but because Presidents Leitzel, Hart and Newman focused—as I will—on the strengths of the University of New Hampshire.  And as great as those strengths have been over the last ten years, they are even greater today, in 2007.

For instance, ten years ago, President Leitzel announced that UNH Poet Charlie Simic had been nominated for the National Book Award. In a few moments, I get to brag that he is this country's Poet Laureate.

President Hart announced at her State of the University Address in 2003 that UNH would host a student summit on responsible celebrations the following year. This was the result of a series of downtown Durham disturbances following major sports events. I have even better news today.

And last year, Interim President Newman told you about a proposal going to the trustees that could well have been a pipedream. I am here today to tell you that pipedream has almost become a pipeline.

Let me start, though, by honoring another venerable convention, and say that I stand before you as a new freshman—and tell you some of the things I have experienced in my first hectic months.   Note that I didn't say that “I'm a member of the class of 2011.”  I'm not planning on going anywhere in four years.

Actually, this was very nearly the second time I was a freshman at UNH.  Back when I was in high school in New York State and thinking about colleges, I came close to enrolling here.  I think, in part, at least, I was intrigued by what I took to be the nice tradition of naming buildings after prospective students.  But the cost of a UNH education back in the late 1960s proved to be too far out of reach.

In any event, as an “older” freshman at UNH now, I did what many traditional freshmen do before they arrive on campus. I went to the UNH Web site and found this advice from UNH sophomores to first-year students:

  • First, get a seat in the front of the class.
  • Second, if you want to know what's going on at UNH, read the sidewalks.
  • And third, bring headphones! Not everyone likes the same music as you do.

All good advice.  But the bit of wisdom-for-freshmen that I live by is:  Pay attention.  Keep your mouth closed and your ears open, at least for a while.

That's what I've tried to do for the past four months, and it has been an amazing educational journey.  Before I had even fully unpacked my books—or my family, or the dogs, or the turtle!—so much had already happened. I knew I had arrived at the right place.

Charlie Simic was named the U.S. Poet Laureate. I did not have to Google his name to become familiar with his poetry. Long before my affiliation with UNH, I had discovered Charlie in the pages of the New Yorker, and in his published collections. And since I arrived in Durham, especially when I am walking around this gorgeous campus, I often think of the opening lines to his poem, Heights of Folly:

O crows circling over my head and cawing!
I admit to being, at times,
Suddenly, and without the slightest warning,
Exceedingly happy.

In my first months at UNH, I have, for the first time in my academic career, learned what it means to be a truly sustainable university. From EcoLine, the landfill gas project we're undertaking, to the grassroots campus-wide efforts to make all of us more sensitive to the environment, it is clear that UNH Blue is really green (and that's not, as my wife would incorrectly insist, because I am colorblind).

No other university can make that claim. We are at the very forefront of a new energy future and, I can tell you, all eyes are on UNH.

Also during my first few months:

We hosted a nationally televised Presidential Primary Debate that was held in early September at the Whitt. Although the 4,000 spectators weren't quite as energetic as those who show up for our hockey games, the debate did give the university and its faculty national and international exposure.

I've had the pleasure of getting to know this campus, touring virtually every office that serves our students.

I've also enjoyed getting to know the state of New Hampshire through outreach visits to Belknap and Carroll counties with Cooperative Extension. I've met with Durham town officials and our local delegation to the New Hampshire Legislature. I've begun editorial board meetings with media around the state. I've traveled to New York City and northern California to meet friends of UNH—alumni who have wonderful memories of this place and who want to help us become even better than we already are.

I have visited the Shoals Marine Lab on Appledore Island, and toured Coos County. I also have had time to go to the bottom of the Black Sea…via computer, from our Joint Hydrographic Center. I have to tell you it was surreal to watch in real time as Dr. Bob Ballard and his research team, which included a UNH grad student, manipulated robotic claws and picked up old urns from a fifteen-hundred year old shipwreck.

Over the past few months, we've welcomed some new faces to UNH: Don Wilson, the president of the UNH Foundation; Dan Innis, dean of the Whittemore School of Business and Economics; Barbara Arrington, dean of the College of Health and Human Services; and Tom Brady, dean of the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture and, of course, undefeated New England Patriots quarterback.  Welcome, fellow freshmen. I hope you brought headphones because others may not like the same music you do.

And, we've learned that we will be saying farewell to someone this year. I realize there will be many opportunities at the end of the academic year to salute the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Marilyn Hoskin, but I am going to start today. Marilyn and I go way back to a summer in Buffalo when she was raising her then toddler daughter, Elena, and an Irish terrier named Daisy, finishing her first book, and going up for tenure. She seemed a bit frazzled—why, I can't imagine—so one hot day I picked up a kiddie pool and a toddler's bathing suit and walked over to her house. Elena spent the rest of the summer in the pool, and Marilyn finished her book and earned tenure. I would like all of us here today to thank her for her 13 years of leadership in the College of Liberal Arts. Marilyn, thank you. (Start applause).

A few weeks ago, we honored Jan Nisbet, director of the Institute on Disability, with the annual Pettee Medal, and it was at that ceremony that I learned that the state of New Hampshire is among the very best in terms of providing support to people with disabilities. And it is because of Jan Nisbet's tireless advocacy that the state has earned this distinction.

And, even more important than the Red Sox winning the World Series, our students celebrated responsibly and appropriately. For the first time in many years, not a single student was arrested that night. I report this with genuine pride.

On a personal note, I've learned that it's a good thing that I love this job because there isn't a lot of time for anything else.  Weekends are generally happily occupied cheering on the Wildcats in one sporting event or another.  Weeknights tend to be busy with receptions, concerts and art gallery openings.  We have found time to become life members of the UNH Alumni Association and to snag a new vanity plate for Emma's Mini Cooper:  WLDKAT, with a K. I am looking for the person who has WLDCAT, with a C. I want to trade.

That, friends, is a closely cropped snapshot of what has transpired at UNH since my arrival in early July.

But the State of University Address is really about what all of you have accomplished over the past year:  Faculty who introduced fresh ideas to the world, created new art, shaped new technologies, drove public policy at the national level and improved the lives of our neighbors here in New Hampshire. Students who worked hard and made the dean's list, who played hard and earned distinction on the field or in the rink, who asked probing questions and puzzled with their professors in an effort to answer them. Staff who work both in front of and behind the scenes to make UNH a great and beautiful university. Thanks so much for all that you do.

On your way out today, please take a few minutes and look at the displays in back of the room. The faculty and staff excellence award winners represent the very best of the best in our community. Many have come before them, and many will follow.

I also want to say a very special thank you to Interim President J. Bonnie Newman.  Bonnie, wherever you are today—probably on the tenth tee at Abenaqui—know how much all of us appreciate the leadership you provided last year.  The only real problem you left me is how to one-up your commencement speakers.

*  *  *  *

“UNH gets it right.” I've used that phrase a lot since I arrived. And I really mean it.  We get right what so many other major American universities managed to get wrong in the post-World War II era—things having to do with scale, interdisciplinary work, community engagement, integration of undergraduate students with the research enterprise—that I am convinced that this institution is poised to become the model of the new American university.

UNH gets sustainability right.  We have been committed to being a sustainable living and learning community for a very long time. In fact, the oldest endowed sustainability program in the nation is at UNH. And we will continue to be leaders in this realm. It comes naturally to all of us—whether it's the annual residence hall power-down, the way we compost food from the dining halls, or building a 12.7-mile-long pipeline, UNH gets it right.

UNH gets it right with partnerships with our friends in business, government and non-profit sectors as well—partnerships that are essential for our long-term prosperity.

Let me give you two examples: The first is the unique collaboration we have forged with Waste Management of N.H. As I said earlier, EcoLine™ takes UNH and New Hampshire to the forefront of sustainability initiatives in higher education. This collaboration demonstrates what a public institution can accomplish through a blend of Yankee ingenuity, responsible fiscal strategy, and the collective vision of key stakeholders, including our Board of Trustees, the New Hampshire Legislature, state agencies and private entities.

Another example is Kingsbury Hall, home of UNH's College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. Kingsbury is a beautiful, state-of-the-art building equipped with the finest laboratories and high-technology teaching spaces. With the help of faculty who articulated the vision, and the state legislature and private donors who believed in the vision, it is another example of academia, government, and the business community joining together to make a dream a reality.

We eagerly look forward to developing new partnerships.  One that is still in the early planning stages, but which has great promise, is our new Center for Science, Technology and Management at UNH Manchester. This Center will enable the University to expand applied technology and science programs to meet the needs of the Merrimack Valley technology corridor and support regional growth.

We will, of course, also continue our partnerships with the Town of Durham, through collaborative projects like the Main Street renovation and Durham, It's Where U Live events.

And let's not forget our partnership with a local salsa producer. Better Than Fred's Salsa, under the name New Hampshire Wildcats Salsa, has replaced the product previously served in UNH dining halls—where they go through up to 100 gallons of salsa a week—enough to give me heartburn. A percentage of the proceeds will help support student athlete scholarships. Dot Sheehan made this happen. Thank you, Dot.

UNH gets teamwork right.  People here clearly know how to work together effectively and cooperatively. The reorganization process in the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is on schedule and the process of distributing faculty into the new departments has been developed. This is a five-year process, and we are now only in year one, but we have made good progress.

And speaking of teamwork: UNH varsity teams and club sports are on a roll, with women's ice hockey ranked second in the country, and men's hockey ranked in the top ten. UNH football has had a heckuva season and our women's soccer team came very, very close to an America East Conference Championship this past weekend.

In club sports, we have over 810 student athletes who are involved with 27 sport clubs. Many of these club teams—including, among others, men's and women's crew, cycling, men's volleyball and women's rugby—competed last year in regional and national championships.

And, most important, UNH gets it right with education. We have a growing pool of Inquiry seminars available to our first-year students—some 60 courses have now been approved and reflect a full range of interdisciplinary, problem-based topics. Courses like: We Don't All Play the Violin: Stories and Stereotypes of Asians in America; Horse Power: Transforming and Reflecting Civilization; Emergence of Life in the Universe; The Right to be Disabled in the Extreme Makeover Society; and You've Got Your Troubles, I've Got Mine.

*  *  *  *

Although we get a lot of things right, I would be remiss if I didn't also address some of our challenges, for the only way to ensure continued success is to face challenges squarely.

The most immediate task we face is to craft a successful conclusion to the faculty contract negotiations. The AAUP and the administration are talking, and I hope that we can have an agreement by the end of the semester.  Actually, that is the wrong way to put it, for saying that “I hope we can have an agreement” is too passive.  We are working hard, doing all we can do to secure an agreement by the end of the semester.  I would note that both sides have dropped their respective collective bargaining-related legal challenges, which is a good sign, if only because it allows both the administration and the AAUP to focus energy on the real job at hand, which is getting a contract approved and signed.

Longer range, our biggest challenge is, not surprisingly, access and affordability.  You know, at one time it was appropriate to talk about UNH as a “state supported” university.  Later, as state aid slipped, the more accurate term was “state assisted” university.  Now, in 2007, we all need to work to ensure that the University of New Hampshire doesn't become simply a “state located” university.

You probably know the data as well as I, but let me review some of it for you:

 

  • In 1980 state funding for operations comprised approximately one quarter of UNH's revenues.  This year, it is just over 14%.
  • Net tuition was also about a quarter of our revenue in 1980.  Now it is nearly one third.
  • Oh, and here's some information that hasn't changed in the last decade of State of the University Addresses. New Hampshire ranks last in state appropriations for higher education per capita.  And it would take a 45% increase in state aid to vault us to number 49.

It would be nice to be able to say that the affluence of the New England region and the economic vitality of New Hampshire shelter our families from the implications of these numbers.  Alas, that is simply is not the case.  Data published by UNH Professor Ross Gittell and others underscores the fact the income disparity between the poorest and the wealthiest is growing even faster in New England than it is in the rest of the country. It is perhaps appropriate, then, that our University Dialogue next year, is entitled “The Growing Divide:  A University Dialogue on Poverty and Opportunity,” a conversation that will explore the growing gap between rich and poor in America.

One of the results of the cost-shifting in higher education is that we are asking our students to assume ever larger debt loads to get through college.  Here at UNH, the median debt for last year's graduates was $25,000.  This is a figure that we have seen rise each year for more than a decade and we can see no clear end in sight, even while we as an institution have reached deeper into our own threadbare pockets to provide more  need-based financial aid. The current year's projected investment in need-based grants is approaching $25 million.  This is not something we can continue to shoulder alone.

Granted, the State of New Hampshire spent more than $4 million on need-based grants for students in 2005-06.  But this figure represents only one-third of what Rhode Island provided, only one-quarter of Maine's commitment and only slightly more than one-fifth of Vermont's investment in the future.

The lesson is clear: New Hampshire needs to invest more in public higher education. This is not simply about justice—about the moral imperative to make college available and affordable to all residents of this state.  It is about self-interest and survival. Without that investment, we will not survive as a state in the knowledge-driven flat world of the 21st century—at least not at a level of prosperity that most of us have come to take for granted. We need a robust system of higher education through the doors of which all eligible students are able to pass without literally mortgaging their futures.

We need to rewrite the social compact about higher education, about who bears what costs in return for what benefits.   Making this case is one of my main jobs, as I see it.  But I would urge all of you to accept this challenge as part of your job, too, to talk relentlessly with your friends and neighbors and legislators about education as a public good.  It is a case for all of us to make, all the time.

It is also a central part of my job to help diversify our sources of revenue, particularly by enhancing our fundraising capacity.  While private giving can never replace public support, it can and must provide the margin we require to be an institution of true excellence. Through philanthropy, we can offer extra support to talented and deserving students. We can recognize particularly exemplary faculty. And we can build for the future and strengthen our communities, with enhanced support for outreach and services that affect the well being of our region.

While the University of New Hampshire Foundation has experienced considerable success to date, raising more than $12 million last year, that's not enough.  We need to raise our game to a new level—in annual giving, in major gifts, and in building our endowment. Our peer institutions burst out of the gate long ago, and we're really going to have to run to catch up.  Last year, only 12% of our alumni made a gift to UNH. When I was at Ohio Wesleyan I was discouraged to learn—and worked hard to change the fact—that only 33% of our alumni gave gifts annually. After all, our peers there were in the 40% range.  I don't expect us to hit 40% any time soon, but we need to improve significantly on 12%.  And, to do that, we need to do a better job engaging our alumni, encouraging them to give back to an institution that they all love. Someone wiser than I once observed that while we're all likely to have over the course of our lives more than one house, more than one car, more than one dog, maybe even more than one spouse or partner, none of us will ever have more than one alma mater.  There's a lot for us to build on in that observation.

We also need to engage the business and foundation community more assertively, and develop meaningful partnerships with those businesses, non-profits, and foundations whose interests align with our own core principles. UNH is filled with talented and entrepreneurial faculty and there are many “great ideas” here that will be of interest to potential partners.

All of these efforts need to feed into laying the foundation, no pun intended, for our next capital campaign, which will need to be much more aggressive than the $100 million effort we concluded in 2002.  And in doing these things, we need to see them as more than just “one-offs,” as my British friends would say.  We need, instead, to build a culture of philanthropy at UNH.  That is, there should be deeply rooted expectations of giving, expectations that endure far beyond any particular annual appeal or capital campaign.

For a university in the 21st century that is in danger of moving from state-assisted to state-located, there isn't really any alternative.

Another challenge has to do with fortifying our research base.  UNH has been extraordinarily successful in recent years in attracting extramural research funding.  Measured by the number of awards, our research enterprise has grown almost threefold over the last decade.

But we cannot afford to be complacent.  We know that the environment for extramural funding will become ever more competitive.  Federal earmarks will be harder to obtain. Compliance issues related to the research enterprise will become increasingly complex. The Federal funding landscape will increasingly seek and reward research solutions that are transformational, interdisciplinary in nature and able to provide knowledge and know-how that benefit society.

As a result, we will need to target our current and future areas of excellence especially carefully, and be very strategic about how we invest in, support and grow the research enterprise.

But invest in, support and grow the research enterprise we must.

I was attracted to UNH in no small part because of its strong reputation in research. We are a Carnegie Foundation-classified Comprehensive Doctoral and Research University with high research activity. We are also one of only 13 universities nation-wide with Land Grant, Sea Grant and Space Grant charters. These charters capture the essence of what our research enterprise is about… research for the public good.

We have largely untapped potential to realize returns on our research efforts through commercialization of our intellectual property. The opportunities here are great, and it will be well worth our while to explore them vigorously.vOf course, research and scholarship on a university campus extend far beyond that which is supported by extramural funding.  We treasure all efforts to extend the bounds of human understanding.  As I said last week at the reception for Charlie Simic, a university without a poet is not really a university.

Indeed, my point is that research, in all in manifestations, is absolutely central to our mission.  Research creates knowledge, enriches instruction, enhances sustainable economic development, and improves the quality of life on this planet.  It is critical to our identity.

I am personally committed to recruiting and retaining the best and brightest faculty available to ensure that our research, scholarship, and creative activity are second to none. I am also committed to ensuring that all of our own systems, including those that bear on the internal allocation of resources, align with the goal of supporting our research enterprise.

Which brings me to the subject of another acronym, one that you all know and love:  RCM.  RCM—or Responsibility Centered Management—is a wonderful budget model in many respects, and I say that as someone who has lived with a lot of them, all worse.  As its name suggests, it pushes responsibility away from the center, into the hands of those who have day-to-day authority to manage resources. This decentralization of decision-making can, and usually does, lead to what are, in the aggregate, greater organizational efficiencies, and that's a good thing for the university.

But it is important to remember several simple things:  First, RCM is a set of decision—rules that we have chosen; none of those rules is engraved in stone.  Second, we chose the rules to serve the mission of the university; these rules are not themselves the mission.  Third, if and when the rules begin to interfere with the mission of the university, it is time to review them.

It became clear to me shortly after I arrived at UNH that the rules that were developed for RCM II, as it has come to be known, were interfering with our research mission.  We are therefore going to undertake a focused review of these rules on an accelerated basis, and ensure that what were always meant to be means to an end do not become an end in themselves.  In the process, we will seek to examine the broad array of incentives—and disincentives—to scholarly research at UNH, and work to ensure that we are doing all we can reasonably do to support our research enterprise.

At a later date, we'll need to ask ourselves whether we've gotten the balance between centralization and decentralization in our RCM model exactly right.  Universities are, by their nature, decentralized entities.  In fact, as Robert Maynard Hutchins, a former president of the University of Chicago once said, a university may be usefully defined as “a collection of autonomous departments held together by a central heating system” …although I would add, “one powered by landfill gas.” We need to make sure that RCM doesn’t aggravate what are already actually centrifugal tendencies.

*  *  *  *

Let me close by returning to the beginning. What has built all of these successes at UNH? It is more a question that begins with Who.

Our faculty are distinguished; they serve on National Academy of Sciences and Engineering panels, federal agency science advisory boards, and international commissions. They are MacArthur, Guggenheim, Fulbright and Carnegie Fellows. They have shared in the Nobel Peace Prize and the Sayed Environmental Prize.

Our staff is among the best I have ever worked with. The UNH Police Department earned national accreditation this past year—only the seventh out of New Hampshire's 236 police departments and the only campus department in the state to earn the designation.

The admissions office was honored by the NAACP of the Seacoast in January for their efforts in recruiting students of color to UNH. It is the first award of excellence the chapter has given outside its organization.

There are numerous student success stories as well.  In May, three UNH students received Fulbright scholarships to conduct research abroad this academic year.

Last spring, we had over 750 undergraduates and 250 faculty mentors participate in the Undergraduate Research Conference.

Wow.

These really are shining examples in keeping with the theme of the academic plan.

When I was president of Ohio Wesleyan University, I signed, with other college presidents, a letter sharply critical of the US News and World Report college rankings, which I find almost as pernicious as the nonsense dispensed by the Princeton Review.  We don't need a commercially driven magazine purporting to tell the world what we're good at or not good at. I know who we are and what we are. That's why I'm here.

Our students and their families know who we are and what we are. That's why they're here.

You know who you are and what you do—whether it's keeping our campus beautiful, teaching our students in and outside the classroom, keeping the lights on and the computer screens from freezing—that's why you're here.

And, in my book, it is all of this, and all of you, who make the University of New Hampshire number one.

Being here is a privilege for me. Thank you for that privilege and thank you very much for being here today.